How will Group A play out in the 2023 Women’s World Cup?
Part 1 of a series
The upcoming Women’s World Cup, scheduled to commence on July 20, will witness the emergence of teams from all eight groups, each eager to make their mark on the tournament.
In Group A, New Zealand, one of the hosting nations, will be accompanied by Norway, Philippines, and Switzerland.
As the first match between New Zealand and Norway kicks off, Group A holds numerous intriguing questions waiting to be answered.
First Place: Norway
Hege Riise’s side, Norway, is driven by a strong desire for redemption following their disappointing Euro 2022 campaign.
Despite a promising start to the previous summer’s Euros with a 4-1 victory over Northern Ireland in their group opener, Norway’s spirits were shattered by a crushing 8-0 defeat at the hands of eventual champions England in their second match. This mental setback proved insurmountable in the four days leading up to the group finale, resulting in their elimination with a 1-0 loss to Austria.
Since then, their performance has been up-and-down, but a significant 2-0 away win against the Netherlands in November served as a reminder of Norway’s genuine quality. They have also managed draws against France and Sweden earlier this year.
Headlining their squad is standout star Ada Hegerberg, who scored three goals in the 2015 edition and won the 2018 Ballon d’Or Feminin. Norway also boasts a wealth of talent including Chelsea duo Maren Mjelde and Guro Reiten, Manchester City’s Julie Blakstad, and Arsenal’s Frida Maanum.
Although winger Caroline Graham Hansen had a knee injury scare in April, she made a swift recovery and started for Barcelona in their Champions League final victory last month.
If they live up to expectations as the group’s frontrunners, Norway could be tough opponents in the knockout rounds.
Second Place: New Zealand
New Zealand has a golden opportunity to secure their first-ever tournament victory, especially as the hosts. The advantages of hosting mean that the Football Ferns may never have a better chance to etch their name in Kiwi history.
Nevertheless, New Zealand has yet to progress beyond the group stage or secure a single victory in previous World Cup finals. Their performance at the start of 2023 suggests that the home advantage will need to play a significant role in their pursuit of advancement. As expected, their group matches will all take place in New Zealand rather than in co-host Australia.
Since their disappointing display in the previous World Cup, where they lost all three matches, New Zealand has undergone an evolution. Long-time stalwart Abby Erceg retired (for the second time, having done so previously in 2017) from international football in January at the age of 33. However, a trio of similarly experienced players, Ali Riley, Betsy Hassett, and Annalie Longo, who made their debuts between 2006 and 2008, are still involved.
Meanwhile, Ria Percival aims to overcome a lengthy absence due to an ACL knee injury. While Percival has made the squad, her clearance to play remains uncertain. It will be challenging for New Zealand to advance from the balanced Group A, considering they have won just once in their last 11 matches, losing eight of them.
Fortunately, the Kiwis can draw some confidence from their most recent victory, which occurred last September against the Philippines, who are also in this group and making their Women’s World Cup debut.
If New Zealand finds themselves in a close contest with Switzerland after two games, the enthusiastic home crowd in Dunedin could potentially push their team closer to a long-awaited appearance in the knockout phase.
Third Place: Switzerland
Switzerland is relishing their return to the global stage after a six-year absence since their last appearance in 2015.
However, it’s worth noting that Switzerland did not qualify for the 2019 World Cup and failed to progress from the group stage in the previous European Championship.
Switzerland has also been inconsistent for the past seven matches. Their recent record includes five draws and two losses since securing qualification by narrowly defeating Wales in one of October’s UEFA playoff finals.
While Arsenal’s Noelle Maritz and Lia Walti form the backbone of their defense and midfield, Switzerland’s success in advancing to the knockout stages will rely on their group of talented attackers. Regularly featuring for Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona respectively, Ramona Bachmann and Ana Maria Crnogorcevic provide offensive threats.
Although Switzerland is likely to emerge victorious against the Philippines, their path out of the group stage could require securing at least a draw against Norway and defeating New Zealand.
Fourth Place: Philippines
The Philippines is among the nations set to experience World Cup football for the first time. With Alen Stajcic’s previous experience in major tournaments during his time with Australia from 2014 to 2019, the question remains whether he can pass on his wisdom to his team and secure a historic inaugural victory.
The Philippines qualified by reaching the semi-finals of the 2022 Asian Cup. Although the journey was not without its challenges, including a 4-0 defeat to Australia, they managed to advance to the semis through a penalty shootout victory over Chinese Taipei.
Within their squad, a few players are affiliated with American colleges: forward Isabella Flanigan (West Virginia) and goalkeeper Kaiya Jota (Stanford). Additionally, there is another player plying their trade in the United States as it is defender Alicia Barker (formerly of the University of Illinois), who represents Seattle-based amateur club Pacific Northwest SC.
Even if they do not progress beyond the group stage, the players should undoubtedly take pride in this historic moment of representing their country on the grandest stage of all.